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A Lifetime of Healthy Breasts

A guide to keeping your breasts healthy now and in the years to come.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Mikio A. Nihira, MD

Breasts: Some women worry that theirs are too big or too small or not as firm and youthful as they once were, but here's one thing that every woman wants -- healthy breasts for a lifetime.

As you enter your 30s, 40s, and 50s, your breasts change along with the rest of your body. In your childbearing years, you may wonder whether breastfeeding will affect your shape. After menopause, you might be more concerned about breast cancer risk. WebMD asked breast specialists to guide women through each important decade.

Did You Know?

Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will provide free women’s preventive services, including mammograms, birth control and well-woman visits. Learn more.

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Your Breasts in Your 30s

During this decade, hormones like estrogen help to keep breasts firm. Breasts contain no muscles. Rather, they consist of fibrous tissue, fatty tissue, plus dense glandular tissue that includes milk-producing glands called lobules and ducts to carry milk.

Fortunately, in the 30s, breast problems tend to be benign (noncancerous). Younger women commonly experience fibrocystic breast disease, a broad term that is characterized by breast pain, cysts, and noncancerous lumpiness. "Breast pain can be cyclic, coming with menstrual periods, or it can be more persistent," says Leona Downey, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center.

What helps ease breast pain? Avoiding caffeine, says Elizabeth Steiner, MD, associate professor at Oregon Health and Science University and director of the Oregon Cancer Institute Breast Health Education Program.

Fibroadenomas can also affect women in their 30s. These rubbery lumps made of fibrous and glandular tissue aren't cancerous, but they can hurt. If they're bothersome, they can be surgically removed, Downey says.

Worried About Breast Sagging?

During this decade, which has become more popular for childbearing, breastfeeding offers mothers some long-term protection against breast cancer. "One of the best gifts they can give themselves and their babies is to breastfeed for as long as possible," Steiner says.

But some women worry that breastfeeding will cause breast sagging. Experts tell WebMD, however, that nursing doesn't actually cause breast tissue to droop. Instead, breast swelling during lactation can stretch the skin over the breast. "Then when your breasts shrink again, you have this loose skin that appears to sag more than it did before," Downey says.

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